Holy Vessels: Different Pictures, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
First United Methodist Church, March 31, 2019
Pastor Toni Carmer
Change is hard. We’ve heard that said. We’ve experienced it! But perhaps in reality, change is nearly impossible, especially when we’re comfortable with the status quo.
But what if we could be happier, more productive, more peace-filled? If it requires change on our part, there’s a good chance that we’d still pass right on by the good stuff.
Because change is really hard.
I think of the people of Israel who ventured forth from captivity in Egypt to the land God promised. They were in the process of a big change. A good and blessed change that would make their lives better, richer, fuller. They experienced amazing things as they journeyed. Things God did for them to lead them forward, to protect them, to provide what they needed, as they were in this process of change. God provided things like a pillar of cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night, that led them on their way. When the Egyptian cavalry pursued them, God parted the sea; waters formed a wall on their right and their left, and they passed through on dry land. The Egyptians were thrown into confusion, the sea fell back into place and they all drowned. When the people of Israel were thirsty, God provided water. When they were hungry, they were given manna. When they whined for meat, they were given quail. When these amazing things happened, the people would respond by expressing their faith in God, but then, when there was a challenge, they’d be ready to go back to Egypt, to give up their freedom and be imprisoned again, to give up on this new home God had promised, this place they were being led. Because they were afraid. And though the distance between Egypt and the promised land might have realistically been traveled in a matter of weeks, or perhaps months because of the number of people involved—it took them 40 years. It took that long to get Egypt our of them so they would be ready to see and receive this new life God was offering.
Change is hard. It’s really hard.
The people of Israel saw themselves primarily as slaves, people whose thoughts and actions—people whose whole lives and way of thinking were guided by Pharaoh’s expectations and directions, by their slave-masters. Changing that image and creating a different picture of themselves was a terribly hard thing for them to do.
That image wasn’t a good one for them, but they had grown accustomed to it, and had a hard time seeing a different picture of themselves, a better life for themselves.
We all create pictures of our world, of our lives, of who we are and who we believe others to be. There are some stereotypes and prejudices that are built into the image, there are bits and pieces of what others have said to us or about us, there are experiences we’ve had along the way that add to our picture, some are good, and some aren’t. Sometimes we allow those worst moments to define us, sometimes we allow other people to define us…sometimes we simply accept what is, because we have a hard time visualizing a different possibility…a different picture—for ourselves and for others. And so the images we create are limiting; they fail to embrace the fullness of who are.
Perhaps that’s the human point of view Paul speaks of in verse 16 of our text today. And yet, through Christ, in our coming to know the fullness of who Jesus is—from our perspective in this time and in this age, as a people who live in the shadow of the cross and in the knowledge of Christ’s resurrection and what that means—we can begin creating/seeing a new picture/a new possibility. To see that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation; everything old has passed away, see, everything has become new! We can create different pictures of ourselves and others. We see we can be changed, we can find new life in Christ.
When we decide to become followers of Jesus Christ, we change. At that point of decision, we proclaim our desire to conform to the way and the will of Christ, rather than responding according to our own will and way. We want to be like him. Our desire is to trust him…to love others and accept others in the same way that we’ve been loved and accepted. But, in the same way that the people of Israel truly wanted to listen to Moses and to be God’s people but kept falling short, so, too, do we find that following and trusting and living the life Christ calls us to live isn’t always an easy thing for us to do. We live in a world where we’re so often called to other allegiances, where prejudice and stereotypes are not always hidden or subtle, where humility, acceptance and forgiveness are not expected. And yet, the waters of our baptisms and Christ’s call for us to love, to live and to share the good news creates a new and different and better picture.
When I first chose this text for this morning’s message, I was focused primarily on verse 17. The hopefulness that is found in being made a new creation is a beautiful thing. A thing that brings hope and joy!! We can create different pictures of ourselves, of others and of our world.
But as I looked at the 4 verses that follow this one and saw how many times the word “reconcile” was used in its various forms (5 times to be exact!!), I decided that reconciliation has to be key when we think about being made new.
To change, to be made new/to be a new creation, requires reconciliation.
So, what is reconciliation? At the very basic and secular level, reconciliation involves the repairing of a relationship. When we’re talking faith, the relationship being reconciled is the relationship that exists between God and ourselves. We sinned (remember Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden), we fell short, but we’re reminded in verse 18 that God sought to restore the relationship, reaching out to us, initiating the process, and reconciling himself to us through Christ.
Forgiveness is a word that matches right up to reconciliation. It’s an essential part of that whole process. And so now, as a people who are reconciled to God, as a people who are forgiven and beloved, we are given a ministry of reconciliation. We are disciples/we are ambassadors for Christ, entrusted with the message of reconciliation.
Forgiveness and reconciliation is not an uncommon thing. We’ve all been in battle with someone along the way, have offered and received forgiveness and have reconciled. We know how to do it, we’ve practiced it. And yet, perhaps some of us could today name a person with whom we haven’t reconciled. We may still carry anger with us over whatever happened, or perhaps we carry a deep hurt, because the relationship isn’t where we would like it to be.
Perhaps now, if it makes sense, and if it’s possible and you have any control in the situation—perhaps now is the time to step out, to initiate, to create a new picture. For the sake of your own heart and peace of mind.
There are some amazing stories of forgiveness and reconciliation that we’ve witnessed on the public stage, that could only happen by the grace of God.
I went on an Educational Opportunities Wesley Heritage tour to England back in the mid-90’s, and among the places we visited was Coventry Cathedral. The cathedral was destroyed in a massive German bombing raid on the night of November 14, 1940. Standing in the midst of the smoldering rubble the next morning, Provost Dick Howard picked up 3 of the long medieval roofing nails that had rained down overnight upon the cathedral floor. He bound them together in the shape of a cross.
This cross of nails was later placed on an Altar of Rubble built from the fallen masonry—and the people of the cathedral birthed a worldwide movement called the Community of the Cross of Nails. In the post-war years, the focus of this group was reconciliation with Germany. Since then the movement has grown: there are now 170 partners in 35 countries, including strife-torn regions such as Iraq, Ukraine, Israel, Palestine and Sudan. Each CCN partner is committed to the work of reconciliation in its own context
When I visited Coventry Cathedral, I sat in the former ruins of the Cathedral for some time, observing the artwork and breathing in the peacefulness of this place that has been transformed with such grace. I remember a text from the prophet Haggai, on a plaque on the wall near where I sat that read, “’The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,' says the LORD Almighty. 'And in this place I will grant peace,' declares the LORD Almighty" (Haggai 2:9).
This statue wasn’t placed until 1995, so I didn’t see it. But it’s called Reconciliation.
There’s another story that happened not so long ago, that moved so many of us at the radical forgiveness offered and the reconciliation that came as its result…
In October 2006, Charles Roberts stormed into an Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. It was later reported in the New York Times that Roberts, apparently filled with unresolved grief over the loss of his daughter 9 years earlier, ordered all the boys and the adult women with infants who were there, to leave the room. Using wire and plastic ties, he lashed the girls together while making them stand single file along the chalkboard. Using boards and bolts he brought in his pickup, Roberts barricaded the doors and prepared to torture these young Amish girls, ages 6-13. After a brief conversation on his cell phone with his wife Marie and law enforcement officers, he opened fire on the girls, killing 5 and wounding 11.
A short time later, the fathers and the elders of the Amish community knocked on Marie Robert’s door. Miraculously, they had come in the name of Jesus Christ, bearing forgiveness and reconciliation. They invited Marie and her 3 children to attend the funerals of their small daughters. They also announced that a fund had been created for their children and for Marie and her children to meet unforeseen expenses. In the midst of tragedy, the forgiveness of Christ was offered in the white light of the national media.
These men, even in profound grief were ambassadors for Christ. Reaching out with Christ’s love, offering forgiveness and reconciliation. Offering a different picture, a better picture, a healing picture.
May the grace of God who reconciled the world to himself, who loves and treasures each one of us, empower us to be that kind of people.